A New History of Jewish Food Covers Everything from Biblical Garlic to Crisco, Peanut Oil, and Hungarian Cholent

Dec. 28 2020

Reviewing Feasting and Fasting, a recently published collection of scholarly essays on Jewish food, Joel Haber concludes that while it “may not be the best collection of essays on Jewish food studies ever compiled, it works well as an introduction to the topic,” and includes “genuine food for thought . . . on specific topics.” Haber highlights some of the more compelling segments:

Jordan Rosenblum’s “A Brief History of Jews and Garlic” is as enlightening as it is concise. In a few short pages, he traces the Jewish love affair with garlic from its biblical roots (Numbers 11:4-6) through its associations with Shabbat by the talmudic rabbis. He continues with the non-Jewish recognition of this affinity, and its weaponization for anti-Semitic purposes.

In “Jews, Schmaltz, and Crisco in the Age of Industrial Food,” Rachel B. Gross explores American Jewry’s coming-of-age at the time of food’s mass production.

Even more intriguing—considering how quickly the details have been forgotten despite the subject’s relative recency—is Zev Eleff’s “The Search for Religious Authenticity and the Case of Passover Peanut Oil.” As a study of “lived religion,” Eleff highlights how peanut oil was widely accepted for Passover use by most Ashkenazim until the current century, with OU certification until 2001, and not included in the “forbidden by custom” category of kitniyot. The reversal, he posits, grew out of the “perceived authenticity” of those who were more stringent, banning its use on Passover

Finally, in a prime example of food revealing culture, Katalin Franciska Rac reveals “How Shabbat Cholent Became a Secular Hungarian Favorite.” Surprisingly, sólet (as the stew is known in Hungary) is widely eaten by non-Jewish Hungarians, often including pork products, and not specifically as a dish for the Sabbath (either theirs, on Sunday, nor that of the Jews the day before). Rac succinctly shows how this reflects the historic integration of Jews into wider Hungarian society, and the two-way street of culinary influence between the communities.

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Read more at Tradition

More about: Halakhah, Hungarian Jewry, Jewish food, Kashrut

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship